Tuesday, November 28, 2006

India International Trade Fair

The IITF (India International Trade Fair) in Delhi is finally over. So is the associated traffic jams around ITO area. To oblige my better half’s wishes, I also visited the fair last Friday. It appeared that whole of Delhi was heading there.

IITF is an annual event that is held at the Pragati Maidan, New Delhi every year between Nov 14 and Nov 27. This is the 5th fifth time I had visited the IITF in nine years. The experience has been going down from bad to worse with each visit. But this is certainly the last time. I swear not to go their again. Despite the heavy ticket price, it was so crowded that one could hardly walk on the streets. Any visit to a state pavilion would be agonizing and one would long to get out of it as soon as possible. God forbids, if some incidents like fire occur, it will be a disaster.

Ticket price on a normal working day is Rs.25/- and on weekends Rs.50/-. And yet at least 30 lakhs people have visited the fair this year. The Friday I went had at least one lakh people inside. I had the misadventure of visiting the fair on a Sunday 2 years back. Later I came to know, there were lakh people inside that day. To discourage people from using their private vehicles, parking charges are as high as Rs.75/-. And yet the whole Delhi seems to head there, as if not visiting this will be a disgrace.

One of the major problems I observed is that of the composition in the crowd. Young boys in the age group of 12-18 years were a nuisance. Most of them were school kids in uniforms. The subsidized ticket price for them at Rs.15/- ensured that they come in large numbers. Often in small groups holding their hands together in the fear of getting lost in the crowd, they would crowd out the stalls. They neither buy anything nor allow others to buy. This helps neither the sellers nor the buyers. The IITF authorities should discourage this practice of subsidized tickets for kids in school uniforms or keep a different slot for them. May be a special day for school children can be thought of.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Learning Photography in Delhi

My knowledge of photography was built upon articles and books I have read on the subject. But the practical or handholding aspect was missing in that knowledge bank. I had always wanted to associate myself with some experienced photographer and have the feel of their working. But the places where I had lived in the last few years had very limited options or nothing at all as far as learning photography is concerned. In my job, Delhi and Mumbai are the only places where I can get such opportunities. So when I moved to Delhi this year, I was determined to grab this opportunity.

After scouting the market, I found out several institutes, but all of them have full time courses. My full time government job is my bread earner and I can afford to indulge in a costly hobby like photography because of the job. This meant that a full time course is out of question. Moreover, the cheapest I found was offered by Delhi Film Institute at a price of Rs.27,500/-. The three month course by Asian Academy of Film and Television (AAFT) costs a whopping Rs.45,000/-. That’s a lot of money, specially when you are learning something for hobby. My idea of learning was to get attached with some established photographer and learn from the experience of working with him. And that again should suit my timings. It was a tough call.

But one morning I read about ace photographer Munish Khanna in the Times Education supplement. I was thrilled. What Munish was offering through his Photography Academy was exactly I was looking for. I searched the net and found out more about Munish and his photography course. Then I fixed up an appointment with him.

It eventually took 3 months for me to meet Munish as I could not find time. Finally, on last Sunday, I had an interaction with Munish at his studio. He was busy shooting a portfolio assignment of a model. As asked by Munish, I carried my hurriedly prepared portfolio of 3 albums. He appreciated some of the shots and told me ‘So you want to learn beyond it’. I told him about my aspirations and reasons for joining his course.

I was impressed with his attitude and facilities. Moreover, this is exactly what I wanted. Munish is into professional photography since 1993. He has converted the first floor of his duplex house at Uday Park (opposite Ansal Plaza near Khel Gaon in Hauz Khas, South Delhi) into a full fledged studio. My training will start from the first week of December.

Munish’s Photography Course:
His basic course has a 64 session curriculum. It includes lectures, presentations and practical. There is no hard and fast class schedule. It is upto the student how fast he can complete. A weekly schedule is sent to the students who can choose which class he wants to attend. For this course he charges a lifetime fee of Rs.12000/-. The fee entitles to many lifetime services from Munish like critical review of your shots, etc.

He even has short time and crash courses for those who are from outside Delhi. This is basically an abridged version of full course. This has 32 sessions and covers most important topics. It costs about Rs.7500/-. But if you are interested in real photography, you should go for the full one.

Munish teaches in his own style with his own curriculum. The course will not give you a certificate (if you are looking for job). But it promises to make you a successful photographer. So if you are in Delhi and wants to learn photography, then probably this is worth giving a try. I will be updating my experiences from time to time.
Where else you can learn in Delhi:
1) Asian Academy of Film and Television, NOIDA (www.aaft.com). Cost Rs.45,000/-
2) Delhi Film Institute, D-20, South Extn-I, Ph-011-41648670/71/72. Cost Rs.27,500/-
3) Motion's Instutute, H-10, South Extn-I, Ph-011-41349615, 55492220. Cost- NOT Explored.
4) India International Photographic Council, Modern School, Barakhamba Road. 6 Months course. Cost-NOT Explored.
5) Triveni Kala Sangam, 205, Tansen Marg,CP. Ph-011-23718833. Cost - NOT explored

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Delhi - UP bus impasse

The Delhi – UP bus impasse has entered almost one week. Buses from Delhi are not allowed into UP, including NOIDA. In retaliation, Delhi administration is not allowing buses from UP into Delhi.

Most buses to UP plies from the Anand Vihar ISBT and some from the Kashmere Gate ISBT. The road across the traffic junction at Anand Vihar falls in UP. To catch a bus to UP one needs to walk down the road instead of waiting in the ISBT. It is practical chaos there. Busses are creating traffic jams on the road leading to the Pacific Mall. Even school children have suffered as DTC school buses are not allowed into NOIDA areas. The height of political rivalry is that the impasse continues at the insistence of our leaders. UP is under SP rule of Mulayam Singh Yadav while Delhi is under Congress rule of Shiela Dixit. Once ally, Congress and SP are now sworn foes. It is one of those examples of our elected leaders holding public to ransom at their whims. Delhi government is now talking about stopping progress of Metro line to NOIDA.

As a traveler, one is advised to explore traveling by train to UP rather than trying to travel by those dilapidated UP Roadway buses.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bypass Websense

Finally I could bypass Websense!

Ever since Websense was adopted in my office as firewall, it became a headache. Though it effectively kept out those who used the net only for voyeuristic pleasures, but to us it blocked almost everything. It is lovingly called Nonesense. After searching in the net, I had learned that Websense is one of the most effective firewall. It even blocks access to proxy sites. We had found out different ways, but all of them got blocked. I had tried to find a solution in the net, but without much luck. Probably my search criteria were oriented more towards ‘Bypassing Websense’ then finding a proxy site. Websense effectively blocks most common proxy sites. However I stuck a goldmine yesterday. A site threw me 3 pages of proxy sites. To my delight, only 3 of the sites could be detected by Websense. So guys, if you are facing such firewall problem, try this site Top 20 Free which has a long list of proxy sites. And ENJOY and uncensored world.

Friday, November 17, 2006

FSE : Filmy Stock Exchange

Move over BSE and NSE. The FSE or the Filmy Stock Exchange of India has arrived. The theme says- " Bollywood Bech Do, Prize Le Lo!". So get ready to sell Bollywood or fictious stocks of Bollywood stars.

This is an online game where stocks of Bollywood stars are being traded. Stars are assigned certain values which keeps changing depending on their box office performances. On registration you are given Rs.1000/- to buy star stocks. If you make money in the process, you can redeem them for limited no. of prizes. The grand prize is an Indica V2. So try out the site if you have enough spare time to kill.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lakshadweep-VII : The Epilogue

Lakshadweep trip is history now. The 20 odd page travelogue should be the most comprehensive written on any trip to Lakshadweep. As an epilogue to the posts, I am providing necessary tips and expenditure estimates which will help one planning a trip.

Types of trips to Lakshadweep:
There are two types of trips to Lakshadweep. Type -I is offered by SPORTS (of Lakshadweep Tourism) and type -II is offered directly by two private resorts, one at Agatti (AIBER) and other at Bangaram. Both TYPES will provide the opportunity to spend a few days in one of those secluded sun baked islands. All of them are coral islands with beautiful lagoons. So it is immaterial where you go. But what kind of vacation you are looking at may decide which TYPE of trip you take. And of course the load you want to put on your purse.

SPORTS have a variety of packages catering to different category of tourists, like the one meant only for divers or water sport lovers. They also had a package in which you spend the day on the beaches and night on the ship. But my experience of traveling tourist class by ship advises one strongly against this trip. It will take all the fun out of your trip. Even Star Cruises (India) also have a day long trip from Mumbai to Kadamath Island. Enjoying a Star Cruise voyage is one thing and spending just a few hours in Lakshadweep is another. So go for a stay kind of trip. If you do not stay at least for a night in one of the islands, you will rue the fact that you had spent so much of money and yet miss something.

The cost:
My experience is limited to Agatti ISland Beach Resort only. The AIBER has around 20 cottages of different category. All the 4 groups in this trip however had chosen the lighter package of non AC cottages. The cost per night inclusive of meals was Rs.6,500/-. Thus I paid Rs.19,500/- for the 3N/4D packages. Upto 2 Child below 5 years is complementary. This rates are applicable upto 30 Nov, 2006 and also between 21 Jan, 07 to 15 May, 07. For the period 1st Dec, 06 to 20 Jan, 07 the rates will be Rs.9,000/-.

Standard AC cottages cost Rs.9,200/- upto Nov, 07 and between 21 Jan – 15 May, 07. They will be enhanced to Rs.11,750/- for the Dec, 06 – Jan, 07 period. There are Deluxe AC rooms as well which cost Rs.11000/- even for the Sept- Nov period. The resort at Bangaram islands is much more costly. You need to be filthy rich to go there. People say there is nothing special about Bangaram except the price. You can spend 2 extra nights at Agatti at the price you pay for a 3N package to Bangaram.

@Rs.6500/- even AIBER is pretty expensive by Indian standard. But I feel that every one can afford such a luxury once in a lifetime. It is worth spending the money, for these beautiful islands may not exist 10 years down the line. Further, going to places like Maldives or Mauritius would cost you much more. This entire trip for 3 of us from Delhi cost me roughly Rs.40,000/- that included one night stay at Cochin. Going to Maldives would have cost me 40000 per person. The cheapest all inclusive offer for Maldives I got from makemytrip.com was Rs.48000/- per person. Further, these islands are geographical extension of Maldives group. Travel restrictions by Govt. of India had kept these islands pristine and beautiful. Here nothing will come between you and the sun, sea and white beaches.

(You can obtain the latest rates of AIBER by sending an enquiry in their website. SPORTS rates are given in their site)

My trip cost:
Delhi – Cochin – Delhi (By II AC) : Rs.9000/-
In Train expense : Rs.1200
One Day / Night stay at Cochin : Rs.1200/-
Cochin to port : @Rs.100/- one way by auto
Cochin – Agatti – Cochin : @ Rs.2000/- one way per adult, @Rs.1250/- one way per child
Agatti Resort : @ Rs.6500/- per night per non AC cottage = Rs.19500/-
Amount spent at the resort : Rs.500/-

Additional expenses :
A 3N/4D package includes the following –
One time glass bottom boat ride to see corals and marine life underneath
One time fishing trip in the deep lagoon water
One time trip to 4 islands in the Bangaram group

You will not get more time than that in 3 days. Honestly speaking 2 ½ days. In addition to these there is a water sports center where you can try your hand in snorkeling and scuba diving. You need to pay in cash for them directly to the guy running the center. Snorkeling packages starts ranges between Rs.250 – 500/- per person for about 30-40 minutes trip. Diving is bit costlier. Introductory diving for novices cost Rs.1000/- per person for about 30 minutes trip. They provide all equipment for diving. For experts, there are various packages that may lighten up your purse upto Rs.5000/- or more. If you are a couple, double the estimate and carry that much cash as there are no banks or ATMs, neither cards in vogue. If you decide to go for diving buy a one time use under water camera at the resort shop that cost Rs.500/-.

If one wants mineral water then it can be bought at the resort. I felt that the desalinated water is good enough to drink. Bottles of 500ml soft drinks were kept in refrigerators in the rooms, but they are not free. However, they will tell you well in advance about these possible billable items. I later found out that each bottle of soft drinks (priced Rs.20/-) were billed @Rs.50/-.

The resort also had a small gift shop for you to buy memorabilia. I bought a T-Shirt with Lakshadweep print for Rs.150/-. It is quite reasonable for a resort outlet. Other things like chocolates, sewing gums, sun screen lotions and (also) condoms are available in the shop. The shop also had a STD booth. Only BSNL / MTNL mobile will work there. Thanks to my MTNL connection, I was the only fellow who had his mobile working there (also in the deep sea for many hours).

How to travel:
Your start point is Cochin (also called Kochi and Ernakulum). You can travel by flight or by ship from Cochin. The aerial distance between Cochin and Agatti is 459 Km. Agatti has the only airport in the Lakshadweep. The airport was just next door to the resort, hardly 100 meter away. Only smaller aircrafts like Dorniers ply to Agatti. I am told that the flight may get cancelled without notice leaving you high and dry.

So the best way to travel is by ship. This will also add novelty to your trip. The resort will arrange for your ship ticket on payment of advance. They will also send you ship schedule to help you plan. Your trip is dictated by ship schedule. The resort will charge a premium for ship ticket as you will be required to be transferred from the ship to the resort. The current charges is Rs.2000/- one way for adult and Rs.1250/- one way for a child upto 12 years.

1) Entry permit: One is required to obtain entry permit for visiting Lakshadweep. The AIBER office will arrange them for you.
2) Liquor is prohibited. But you will get toddy. Get them in the morning and let it ferment till evening. It will work as local beer.

More information on Lakshadweep:
This post features in Holiday IQ.com, a leading Indian travel portal. I have found the site quite useful and innovative. You may be interested in some other travel stories on Lakshadweep and also on many other Indian holiday destinations on Holiday IQ.com.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lakshadweep-VI : Day 4 at Agatti

Day 4: We all woke up to the harsh reality of the fact that we will be leaving this paradise in a few hours from now. For a change we decided to walk down the beach on the western side upwards towards north. My target was few leaning coconut trees which I spotted the other day on the speed boat trip. They were about 1 ½ away from the resort. We walked slowly along the quiet beach, picking of beautiful sea shells or Kaudis on the way.

A local fellow collecting coconuts came running to me. He shook my hand and wanted me to take a photograph of him. Obligingly I readied my camera. But he then turned into a statue. I tried to loose him up and yet he hardly bulged. He was happy to see his photo on my digital camera and wanted a copy. So I took one more shot on my SLR and told him that I will send them to the resort office. He was so happy.

On the way, I got the opportunity to take some pleasing shots. It was just one of those opportunities when you are there at the right place at the right time. Look at the shots of clouds through the coconut trees. Finally, we reached the leaning coconut trees. I shoot several frames there in those early morning light. Some of the best photos in the trip were shot on that final morning. We then walked back to the resort for breakfast. We were told over breakfast that the time of departure will be announced whenever they receive any news. But the tentative time was 10 am.

We got ready well before time and waited in the jetty for departure. Finally, we said goodbye to the resort at around 11:30 am. As we moved away from the jetty, the resort started to disappear in the horizon. But every moment of those 60 odd hours spent in this paradise will remain etched in our mind and heart for ever. May be some day, when my daughter will grow up and will see these photos, she will get dragged into it. But only if these endangered islands still exist in the map of the world.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lakshadweep-V : Day 3 at Agatti

Day 3: As usual I got up well before sunrise. However the sun was in no mood for another spectacle of colour. It hid behind large patches of clouyds for most of the time. I decided to walk down to the southern tip and watch the fisherman there. The lagon on the eastern side was small and so relatively large waves come crashing to the shore. The sand was soft and so walking on it was hardwork.

After a brief walk I met some fisherman. My effort to speak to them in Hindi and English did not yield much result. But the guys fishing were young and so they showed me the fishes with great interest. My endeavor for the morning ended there. Back in the resort for breakfast, we were told about the planned activity for that day – a day long trip to the 4 islands in the Bangaram group. All these are unmanned islands. Bangaram Island has a super costly resort and the resort staff are the only occupant of that island. We were to leave at around 8:30 am. The resort advised us carry soft drinks from the resort if we want, as they are very costly at the Bangaram Island Resort. A 500 ml bottle cost Rs.50/- at Agatti and at Bangaram it would cost more!

We got ready for the adventure. But God almighty had other plans for the day. The harmless looking clouds I saw in the morning engulfing the rising sun had turned into dangerous rain clouds in the horizon. The boatmen were experienced enough and so they were waiting. Soon the weather took a turn for the worse and heavy rain with high speed wind lashed us. The waves from the deep sea got carried with some force into the lagoon as well. Standing in the jetty we felt like being in mid sea rather than in a lagoon. The boatmen ran helter-skelter trying to take the boats away from the jetty so that they do not hit and damage the jetty. Visibility was reduced to just few meters. Amidst the rain we saw a motor boat moving in very slowly. We first thought that it as an astray boat that was not anchored properly. But we were told that it is the boat from Bangaram Island Resort bringing passengers to the airport at Agatti. The storm stuck them in the middle of the sea. We wondered about the mental state of the tourist who had this misfortune while coming back. We all probably said a silent thank to God that we were not out there.

The rain went away after about an hour and weather started to got clear. But then the boatmen brooke the news that it would not be possible to go to Bangaram as the entrance for going out into the deep sea is still very rough. Though skeptic, we had no other option but buy their version. So we were offered an alternative package of a speed boat ride and visit to the uninhabited island of Kalpitti located nearby.

After lunch we were taken out into the sea in speed boat in groups. The ride lasted for about half an hour. Once we crossed the lagoon and entered the deep sea, we could feel what the boatmen had told earlier. It was really rough at the entrance even several hours after the storm. The big waves appeared to be hungry to swallow our small speed boat.

The trip to Kalpitti started at around 3 pm. It is located about half km off the southern tip of Agatti. While travelling thorugh the lagoon we saw at least 2 needle fishes. This 1 foot or so long fish suddenly pops out of water and propels itself parallel to the water in a vertcal position with high speed. It appeared like a small stick moving parallel to the water surface. The boat dropped us at one of the island. Being low tide hours, we could see few people including children crossing the half kilometer stretch between Agatti and Kalpitti on foot. It needs practice and experience to cross on foot. With very few bipeds visitng this small island, it was full of beautiful corals and sea shells. We picked as many as we can as memorabilia. Some of them were so beautiful and we had seen them only in markets till now. And now, they are all lying in front of us to be picked up.

One of the boatman turned into our guide and lead us into the island. We all felt like explorers in a lost island. The beach was not sandy. Instead it was filled with kind of paste – may be powders of corals mixed with sea water. We were then lead into a mosquito infested grassland where a monument stood proclaiming this island named Kalpitti as part of the Union of India. Out of it, we then walked through a patch of hard rockified corals. There were crabs everywhere – in thousands and in many varieties. They started running helter-skelter in a bid to get some place to hide. Some of us got scared and started shouting, but the crabs were more scared by this unexpected visit of so many bipeds from mainland.

The walk continued into a coconut forest and grassland. Finally we popped out somewhere on the other side of the island. Though the main area of the island is very small, it had a pretty long coral reef, may be kilometers long on the western side. The boat was waiting on the other side in shallow lagoon water. We could walk into the boat. We all assumed that Bangaram islands would have been no different from this one.

Back in the resort, we all were in water soon to enjoy the sea for a last time. After a brief bath, the 3 of us did some kayaking. My little daughter was sitting in my lap and she was overjoyed to go into the lagoon in the kayak. The sunset brought us back into cottages. A few crackers went up in the adjoining colony of Airport Authority of India that reminded us that it is Diwali. Indeed a unique Diwali for all of us.

The resort people had also arranged for some local dance for our entertainment. The group stared off with a war dance holding wooden swords. They then did a local form of Dandia. Yes it was Dandia in Lakshadivi style. The final item was even more surprising. It was a form of the Bamboo dance which we thought is unique to Nagaland. Now where is Nagaland and where is Lakshadweep. And how this dances unique to Nagaland and Gujarat landed there!

A delicious dinner and a walk ended the day for us. We wanted to savour the moments for the last time. Only God knows whether we will be able to come to such a place again. Whether these beautiful islands will exist next time we think of such a trip!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lakshadweep-IV : Day 2 at Agatti

Day 2:
From my experience of previous night at ship, I expected the sunrise to be around 6:30 am. So I was out of bed well in time, so did Mono and little Swathi. We have not done that in a long time. Walking down the 100 odd meters to the eastern shore on the other side of the resort, we found that one of the couple was already there. But for reasons known to them, the other two groups did not get out of their slumber and decided to miss the sunrise. Honestly speaking, the sunrise for that day was the best of those 3 days in Agatti.

The sun rose slowly in the distant horizon, as if coming out of the sea. The horizon changed colours from pale orange to yellow as the sun continued its upward journey. Soon it went behind the small pieces of clouds to play hide and seek. We were drawn into water for the first time. Walking along the beach a small crab drew our attention. We could not make whether it was trying to get into water or was trying to run away from it. But its indecision let me shoot some close up shots.

Several fishermen were out in the beach for that early morning catch. Some were fishing with nets and some with hooks. Some went past us, as we were taking photographs, flashing a greeting smile. I tried to speak to one or two. Unfortunately, they neither speak Hindi not English, thereby cutting short my attempts to communicate.

Back into the resort, morning tea was awaiting us. The Chaudhories and Bharatis from Mumbai also woke up by now and has managed to mingle with a local fisherman who was fishing on the resort side of the beach. We had joined them to see the catch. Abdul chacha, the fisherman had a good 2 kg catch for that morning. In order to shoot an action shot of him throwing the net, I kept following him for some time. With the net ready for throwing on his arms and his eyes intensely grazing the water for any sign of fish, Abdul chacha walked unmindful of me following him. But the fishes have gone away by then and so I did not get that shot.

Back into the resort we went for breakfast. Over the breakfast we were told about the first planned activity for the day – Glass Bottomed Boat trip into the lagoon for watching fishes and corals. The boat had capacity of 4 ans so we were to proceed in groups. We were in the first group alongwith Murli and his wife Parineeta from Bangalore. We were taken few hundreds meter deep into the lagoon. Once the covers of the glasses were removed, a virtual live aquarium unfolded in front of us. Beautiful corals of different shapes, colourful fishes and also an eel – we were simply left awestruck. Even though one can see the corals from atop water, the glass bottom boats provides a clearer view, may be by cutting down the refraction. Even though I tried, photography was virtually impossible as everything was under water and the boat was moving all the time. The half an hour trip took us to 3 bushes of corals. Then started the turtle chase. It was difficult to take the boat above a turtle as they moves very fast. Yet the boatman used all their experiences to give us clear view of some massive turtles.

Trip by other groups continued till about noon. We decided to cool off in the lagoon. My daughter was itching to get into water. It was around 10 am. Without much thought we all were in water soon. Because of high tides in the morning, water level was relatively higher and waves were mild. We splashed, jumped and bathed in the lagoon for at least 2 hours, while sun had literally baked us. Back in the room, we started to feel the pinch of the sun burns. We all became tanned by the sun. I was bare back and it got burned so badly that I was finding it difficult to carry my cameras later in the day. Wiser from this experience, we lavishly used the sun control cream in our all future outings.

During the lunch, we were told about the next programme of Lagoon Fishing Trip. The time they gave of 2:30 pm sound very awkward. We all tried for a delayed trip. Eventually, we were out for the trip at around 3:30 pm. We were taken to the same spot where we went for the glass bottom boat trip. The boat was anchored over the corals. It was full of colorful fishes. One of the boatmen handed over hooks to us. Only fish that swallows the fish was the Yellow coloured Snapper fish. This is the same tasty fish that was served to us in the lunch. The young kids from Mumbai could catch about 5 fishes. I was not that lucky. In my entire botched attempts, the bait was eaten by some green coloured fish which attacked the bait in groups. The fun of it was that you can see what was happening down under.

Meanwhile Murli and his wife decided to try their hands at introductory diving. Mr. Hindol Basu from Chennai also joined them. Mrs. Basu tried but opted out. Introductory Diving takes you into about 3 mtrs of water guided by the instructor. The charges for the 30 min trip is Rs.1000/- per person. Murli was determined to try it out here as in his previous trip to Pattaya he found that the rate there was very high, something in the range of Rs.8000/- for Introductory Diving. I was told that for diving one need not know swimming. I thought of going for snorkeling, but dropped the idea later. The instructor also appeared to be more interested in diving then snorkeling as the return is more in diving. I asked Murli as to how it was. He told that you can touch and feel those live corals under water. That’s all and it was worth a thousand bucks.

Back from the fishing trip, it was again sun watching in the beach. Some went for Kayaking. I was not sure whether it can be tried without knowing how to swim. But I was assured that it is absolutely safe and so I tried kayaking and learned the tricks of the trade. That evening the sun threw another spectacle of light. The small pieces of clouds added dimension to this riot of colour. It was the best sunset over the three days we had stayed there. Some of photos were able to capture those magical moments. But what we saw and felt can never be described in photos.

The evening was nothing special. The customary walk down the beach was undertaken. But by now I was really feeling the pinch of the sun burns over my back and shoulders. After a long time, I had applied some cream over my body. There has been no power cuts, though it may sound strange. The activities of the day ensured that we get a sound sleep.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

BIGG BOSS on Sony India

Bigg Boss is watching! Have you watched the newest reality show in India on Sony Television. If not, then start doing it soon before it progresses too far. I have watched the episodes till now. I feel that this Indianised version of the immensely popular show ‘Big Brother’, is going to be next hit in Indian television, at least among the urban crowd.

The show, a kind of Reality Show, was the brain child of Dutchman John de Mol and developed by his production company, Endemol. The first series of Big Brother was aired in the Netherlands in September 1999, and the show was subsequently adapted to virtually every other part of the world. It has been a prime-time hit in almost 70 different countries, earning Endemol large sums of money. 32 of these are original versions and others are near clones. The show's name comes from George Orwell's 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Big Brother is the all-seeing leader of the dystopian Oceania.

The Indian vesrion called the BIGG BOSS is produced by Endemol India. So, it is not a plagiarised version, but a genuine one. The original programme Big Brother had broken many televion records. It was quite surprising that it took so long for it to enter the Indian televion scene.

The show timimg is 10 pm to 11 pm as of now. Once the ratings pick up, it will probably get a prime slot between 8 to 10 pm. The 13 celebraties inckuded people like Salil Ankola, Rakhi Swant, Rohit Roy, Anupama Verma, etc. Cut off from the rest of the world, nearly 30 cameras keep a watch on them round the clock What you get to see is a totally uncensored version of these celebrities daily life. Slangs are used generously. Obviously you can not hold you back for the sake of camera for too long. What amused me till now is the totally unexpected personality of Rakhi Sawant. She is very frank in her attitude and actions. So do is Ravi Kissen. There is very little secret about them and they appear as what they are. Others still appear to try to hide something in their personaility. May be this will change as time progresses.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Uneasy calm in Delhi

Following the SC verdict yesterday, the Delhi traders are out on the street again. The verdict came late in the evening yesterday. Monday being the off day for most markets, there was not much hue and cry last evening.

Schools are closed today. We also had decided to have a watch and decide policy. Nothing unusual reported till about 10 am. So we had started late for office and avoided the problematic Vikas Marg. Buses were plying till then. The protests normally peak during noon time. Yet it appears that it is under control till now. Or, it is just the uneasy calm before a violent expression of protest. The same uneasy calm prevailed on the first two days of that bandh. It finally exploded on the final day.

It was the involvement of political leaders and inaction of police, again at the behest of administration, that lead to violence last time. Had they tackled it tough, it could have been kept under control. This time SC has talked tough and has asked administration to get additional forces if required. With additional companies of paramilitary forces, it appeared that the protest is heading for bloodshed this time. But there is difference between making bloated comments like ‘Hum Jaan Deneko Taiyaar Hai’ and actually face the bullet. While the local Delhi Police might not shoot at the rioters, but the paramilitary forces would.

The resistance from trader community is quite apparent and widespread, covering almost all corners of Delhi. Honestly speaking this is a real test for administration. If they can pass it, then I am sure that anything can be done by the administration, like weeding out corruption or taking action against errant politicians, provided they has a will. Till now they did not have the will. So, SC had to keep intervening.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lakshadweep-III : Day 1 at Agatti

We were all euphoric to find ourselves in a virtual paradise. All tiredness of a long travel had evaporated. It was around 1pm when we had landed at the resort.

We were lead into the respective cottages after the brief welcome ceremony at the jetty of Agatti Island BEach Resort (AIBER). I wanted a bath badly after nearly 24 hrs of traveling. However, a warm salted water bath was not what I wanted. The resort had an in-house desalination plant. This water is used for drinking and cooking only, not for bathing. Starved from the horrible food in the ship, we devoured the sumptuous buffet lunch was served at the restaurant of the resort. Fish served deserves special mention. We were told that deep sea fishes are big but not tasty. However, lagoon fishes are small but tasty. Only lagoon fishes are served in the resort. So we were assured some delicious fish treats.

There was no planned activity for day 1. So we were on our own to relax, enjoy or explore the surroundings. After a brief siesta, we decided to have a look around the resort complex. Set amidst swaying palms, the resort is located on the southern end of the island facing the western shores. The only airport of Lakshadweep Islands is hardly 100 mtr from the resort. Agatti has the only airport of Lakshadweep Islands where only small aircrafts lands. A narrow concrete road laid end to end concrete stands in the middle of the island like its backbone. The island is roughly 7 km long and the total area is just 2.7 sq. km. Around 5800 denizens lives in this small piece of land. The main village is about 2 km upwards in the north from the resort. From the balcony of my cottage, I could see both sides of the sea. This stretch of the island would be at the most 200 mtr. wide. That meant we were able to enjoy both the sunrise and sunset. The lagoon is on the western side. While relatively big surfs could be seen on the eastern side, the lagoon water on the western side was almost placid. Only vegetation seen in the entire island is coconut trees and small bushes.

The rest of the afternoon was spent watching turtles from the jetty of the resort. The water was so clear that you can easily see turtles and fishes swimming underneath. The water there is understood to have been at least 10 feet deep and yet you could easily see the bottom. The sun started to go down in the distant horizon. I had my cameras hanged from my neck all the while I was out of my room. The colours of the lagoon kept changing with the setting sun. Those moments got etched in our minds for ever. I also had captured that moments mechanically for others to see and think. Each of the sunsets over the 3 days spent at Agatti had thrown different colours and each of them was beautiful in their own way.

Ironically, no one ventured into water that afternoon. There was a foreign tourist couple who was the only one out in the lagoon to enjoy some water sport and a leisurely swim. It was low tide in the evening and that made the water calm and almost placid. The peacefulness of surroundings was so powerful. There was no intrusion by anyone. The main village is several kilometers up on the northern end and locals barely come to this southern end of the island. Even if they come they takes the eastern beach and do not intrude into the privacy of tourists on the western beach.

Every couple seemed to have wanted to be left alone and enjoy the solitude. As the sun went into the sea, we were magnetically dragged into leisurely walks on the beaches. Walking on the secluded beach had its own charm, though it needed some effort to walk on the soft wet sand. It burned a lot of energy and we all found to have lost inches after 3 days. The world of small crabs holed up in the sands got perturbed by our intrusion into their world and they all went helter-skelter trying to rush back to their holes.

We were all back to the resort jetty after darkness engulfed everything. The street lights in the resort beach came to life burning the energy saved by its solar panels. Back on the beach benches, we were again back into our own private fiefdoms. My little daughter was so excited and overjoyed to find herself in sands. She wanted to build houses, forts and everything else she could. We had understood that growing up in a city, she had missed all these we had enjoyed in our childhood. This was her first real opportunity to get dirty. We let her free to do whatever she likes.

Dinner was ready around 8 pm. It was another feast of delicious sea fish. The fish we were served was Snapper. There were chicken dishes as well. But not many were interested. We can have chicken here in Delhi, but not those delicious lagoon fishes.

We were again out on the beach after dinner. No one seemed to be in a hurry to go back to rooms. There were no TVs in the rooms. Anyway, we have come this far not to watch TV, but to enjoy the sea and the sand. But we had to call it a day at some point of time. Sand granules were all over our legs. However hard you try, it was difficult to get rid of all of them. (Some of them even accompanied back my slippers to Delhi). Inside the rooms were not very hot, but a little humid. One do not feel this humidity on the beach, may be because of breeze. Anyway, we were tired enough to think much and were soon went into deep sleep.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lakshadweep-II: Agatti to Cochin by MV Bharat Seema

Around 10 in the morning we have been told about the departure time. Departure time is dictated by any news of arrival of the ship. With a deep heart we bade goodbye to the Agatti at around 11:30 am. Everyone probably wished - could be it one more day! Most of the resort staff accompanied us in the boat. The weather was clear and shining bright. On the jetty and also in the boat we had discussed about the possible adventure of climbing up to the ship, because none of us forgot the tough experience of climbing down. In fact climbing up would be more difficult.

The boat headed for the local jetty first. The boatman needs to know as to where the ship will come. The information is known only to the jetty people. The news from the jetty was that ship will come on the western side of the island, i.e., roughly the same side as the resort is. The ship by which came arrived on the eastern side of the island.

The boat turned to the west and started moving slowly. How about trying to find a ship in the sea! The boat staff did exactly that and tried to find the ship in the horizon. Nothing was visible to me or any one of us. After some discussion among them, they moved further out into the deep sea. But still there was no sign of the ship. It was another funny experience for us. We were floating in the sea searching for our ship. After about 20 min. of wandering, the ship was sighted in far horizon. To me it appeared stationary. I asked one of the staff whether the ship is standstill or moving. He said that it is moving, but very slowly. Now the boatman had a direction to move and so he increased the speed. Yet it took another 20 min or so for us to reach the ship.

As we came closer and closer, the size of the ship grew. There it is- the MV Bharat Seema, the big white ship majestically waiting against a backdrop of deep blue water. It was a real big ship, almost twice the size of MV Minicoy. We all have heaved a sigh relief when we saw people disembarking through a big door on its lower hold. This meant that we could almost walk into the ship from our boat. No ladder, no rope. By the time we had arrived, major action of embarkation and disembarkation was already over. So we hardly had to wait to get into the ship. The AIBER staff helped us in getting the luggage up to the first floor deck where our cabins were located. They also brought packed lunch for us thus saving us from the agony of a meal in the ship. After seeing us off into the rooms, the AIBER staff bade good bye to us. All of them were quite nice and well mannered. There was no inbound tourist that day as next ship would be coming only after 7 days. Though we were told a group of German tourists would be arriving next week.

The ship is now on its penultimate stop of this voyage. It had set sail from Cochin 2 days back and already had been to 5 islands. Kavaratti will be its last stop before proceeding to Cochin. So there was no introduction on safety tips this time. I decided to have a look around the ship. From the drawings hanged on walls, I found that this ship originally belonged to the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and is now given to LDCL. It was built at Arhus, Denmark in the year 1973. That meant it is almost as old as me. I am told that the normal life of a ship is about 40 years. All that it got in the name of maintenance is probably coating after coatings of paints on it to make it look new. The ship was 85 feet long and could carry almost 500 people on board plus large amount of cargo. Six large life boats (3 on each side) were hanging on the sides and each had a capacity to carry 60 people. There were two more levels of deck where one can go up and enjoy the sea breeze. Even the big halls with bench like seats at the bottom hold were quite spacious. There were TVs in them, but not in our cabins. There are two restaurants – one ordinary and the other executive class. We were entitled for food in the executive class one. One need not pay for meals as price is included in the ticket. Further we did not have to pay here even for the evening tea. (We had to buy that in MV Minicoy).There was very little difference between the two restaurants, but the executive one opens only on specified hours. The ordinary restaurant remains open for most of the time and also had a counter for buying snacks and cold drinks. The food was much better than in MV Minicoy. This is what you call a ship. MV Minicoy will appear to be a ferry in its comparison.

This time we had cabin accommodation. There are 4 berth and 2 berth cabins. We got a 2 berth cabin. Ticket price for cabins were cheaper than what we paid while coming. It was only Rs.980/- for 2 berth cabins in MV Bharat Seema as compared to Rs.1250/- for chair car in the MV Minicoy. My cabin had two bunk beds and a long enough sofa-cum seat. There are two small cabinets for luggage and a wash basin with a mirror. Overall, it was spacious for two of us plus my kid. But the worst part of it was that it had no window. Most cabins do not have windows. And the AC was not working. Probably the ship is so old that most AC vents had got choked. And so it was hot inside and humidity ensured that we had tough time. The saving grace was a small wall fan. But its speed was not high and also it was not throwing air to the upper bed. So we all ended up sleeping on the lower bed and the sofa. The big thing is that we could sleep as there were beds. (I could not sleep in the onward journey by MV Minicoy). Some were lucky to have a side cabin which has two small windows. But cabins having window are very few, may be 4 or 5 out of the 20 odd cabins. Some of the tourist wanted to lodge complain with the welfare officer regarding the AC. But honestly speaking, it hardly mattered for them and nobody cares. For the locals, AC or no ACs, it probably is the same and they constitute 99% regular passengers on the ship. So who will listen to these occasional 1% travelers!

Other worry for us was the dirty bed sheets and pillow covers. The ship had been traveling for last 3 days. We had no idea whether they would be changed. Fortunately, they were changed.

The ship started off for Kavaratti at around 1 pm. Soon we had realized that a big ship sways more and importantly, it sways very slowly. That makes one more prone to sea sickness. Four tourists from the group from Mumbai had fallen victim this time. My wife had decided to bide her time sleeping, under the influence of Avomin, to avoid trouble. By 4:30 pm, the ship had reached the shores of Kavaratti. It had to unload a lot of cargo there and so the halt took almost 2 ½ hors. In between came the sunset – the final sunset of this trip. As usual, I had captured those magical moments in my cameras.

A ship journey becomes boring after sunset as all that you could see is darkness, like a night time flight. So the sooner you can go to the bed, the better it is. The restaurant opened for dinner at 7 pm. We had the early dinner and then went for sleep even before it was 8 pm. It was hopelessly hot inside though we had kept the door opened a little bit. The heat and sewat woke me up after an hour. I decided to head for the deck outside for cooling off. I was back for sleep around midnight and thereafter I do not remember anything.

We got up late next morning. On asking the crew we came to know that the ship will not reach Cochin before 1 pm. This made the group from Mumbai and the couple from Chennai a bit restless as they had to catch 3:30 pm flights. The airport is at least 30 km from the port. In fact, the AIBER office advised me against booking flight around 3 pm as one can not be sure as to when a ship will dock. Sometime a ship gets stucked for hours in wait for a berth in the port. The ship finally docked at around 1:30 pm. As we had spoken to the Welfare Officer, they had agreed to allow us disembark first ahead of regular passengers.

This time the ship had docked at the South Coal Berth Werf. As the ship moved in closer to the werf, autos and taxis kept pouring in to that area. In fact while leaving for Agatti, the autos and taxis that brought in passengers left as quickly as they come. The werf had a deserted look then. I was worried whether I will be able to get something on arrival from Agatti. I was happy to see this altogether different scene on arrival. May be there is some system in place by which the taxis came to know about arrival of a passenger ship and comes to your rescue. I took an auto to the Ernakulum junction. The fare was same Rs.100/- which I paid for coming. As I had told earlier, one need not bargain in Cochin.

I was at the station well in time, but the train arrived 15 min late. We got into the train and bade good bye to Lakshadweep, Cochin and Kerala. Two visits in 3 years and it will be long before another visit to this God’s own country. It's time now to see and explore some other part of India. May be this time it would be MP which I never have been.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Photos from Lakshadweep

I have uploaded some of the photos from Agatti, Lakshadweep. Open the link of photos in the side bar (flickr.com) and watch them in slideshow. Scanned photos are low resolutions upload. These are my SLR photos. Originals selecetd for scanning were exceptionaly clear and sharp photos. Please let me know your comments.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Delhi Traders’ strike turned violent again

It appears to be a repetition of last strike. The strike had turned violent on its final day. My office was located close to one of the most affected area – Laxmi Nagar. When we came we avoided the Vikas Marg and it appeared to be normal. But soon we started receiving worried calls from home after seeing the visuals of mob rampage in TV. Many colleagues living in areas like Mayur Vihar and Noida could not make it to office today as all approach to the Vikas Marg was blocked. Buses stopped plying after some buses were damaged and set on fire by the irate mob. Police had to resort to lathi charge and RAF was deployed.

Schools have also called up the parents to take back the children as buses would not be plying. It was practical chaos during noon time. As vehicles tried to reach NH-24 in order to avoid the Vikas Marg, they created jams in residential areas like ours. The relative calm of last two days had made most school open today. But it turned out to be wrong decision.

Looking from the top of my office building during lunch hours, which is slightly off the main Vikas Marg, we could see a burning dustbin. These hooligans (so called traders) appeared to have gone on mindless rampage. Smoke was seen bellowing from other areas as well. We did not go down to check. Such wanton damage of public properties should be severely punished. From tomorrow garbage will be dumped on the roads where they existed.

The update as of 05:30 pm is that buses are still not plying on the Vikas Marg. This probably has thrown the system out of gear. How will people return home? Small vehicles are however seen plying. People who had come from places like Noida and Mayur Vihar are worried as to which route they take for going back.
(Advisory: A tourist should avoid Delhi for the time being. Markets will mostly remain closed with erruption of unexpected violence from time to time. Traffic jams can hold you up for hours. It is certainly not the time to visit Delhi.)